Authentic Malaysian Nasi Lemak Recipe: How to Make Coconut Rice at Home

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Discover the heart of Malaysian cuisine with this irresistible Nasi Lemak recipe. Aromatic coconut rice paired with spicy sambal and crunchy accompaniments – it’s a flavor explosion that will transport you straight to the bustling streets of Kuala Lumpur!

Nasi Lemak is more than just a dish; it’s a national obsession in Malaysia. From humble street stalls to high-end restaurants, this beloved coconut rice meal sparks passionate debates about its perfect preparation. At its core, Nasi Lemak is rice cooked in rich coconut milk, creating a comforting softness that Malaysians crave for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

While its exact origins are shrouded in mystery, Nasi Lemak likely emerged on Malaysia’s west coast. The dish evolved as new ingredients, like chili peppers from the Americas, were introduced by European colonizers. Today, Nasi Lemak has countless variations, but the creamy coconut rice remains the star.

The Perfect Coconut Rice

The secret to exceptional Nasi Lemak lies in the rice. Traditionally, cooks use freshly squeezed coconut milk, though many now opt for convenient boxed versions. Aromatic pandan leaves and ginger infuse the rice with irresistible flavor.

Our recipe uses a tiered steamer method for consistently fluffy, flavorful results. We pre-cook the rice with coconut milk and aromatics before steaming, ensuring each grain is infused with deliciousness.

Endless Nasi Lemak Variations

Nasi Lemak is incredibly versatile. Here are five classic ways to enjoy it:

  1. Plain coconut rice – Simple perfection
  2. Rice with spicy sambal tumis – A must for heat lovers
  3. Classic combo – Rice, sambal, fried anchovies, egg, peanuts, and cucumber
  4. Loaded version – Add any protein or veggie dish your heart desires
  5. Ultimate experience – Serve it all on a fragrant banana leaf

Regional variations abound. Northern Malaysia favors curries, while southern areas might include water spinach. In Singapore, you might find Nasi Lemak with fried fish or even luncheon meat. The possibilities are endless!

Nasi Lemak Recipe


  • 2 1/2 cups jasmine rice (1 pound 2 ounces, 500g)
  • 7 ounces (200ml) coconut milk, preferably from a carton
  • 2 pandan leaves, cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
  • One 1-inch knob (25g) fresh peeled ginger, julienned
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt, plus more to taste; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight

To Serve (optional):

  • Sambal tumis
  • Fried ikan bilis (dried anchovies)
  • Sliced hard-boiled eggs
  • Fried peanuts
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Fresh or frozen banana leaf


  1. Prepare your tiered steamer, filling the bottom with 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Line the steamer tier with cheesecloth.
  2. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Drain and transfer to a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Add coconut milk, 7 ounces (200ml) water, pandan leaves, ginger, and salt. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, until it thickens like rice pudding (8-10 minutes).
  3. Spread the rice mixture in the cheesecloth-lined steamer tier. Steam over medium heat for about 45 minutes, checking doneness after 35 minutes. Once cooked to your liking, turn off the heat and let it steam until the process naturally stops. The rice should be perfectly cooked with distinct grains and rich coconut flavor.
  4. Serve your Nasi Lemak with sambal tumis and your choice of accompaniments. For an authentic touch, present it on a banana leaf to infuse even more aromatic goodness.

Recipe Notes

No tiered steamer? Use a large pot with a steamer insert or a wok with a bamboo steamer.

This recipe was tested with boxed coconut milk. If using canned, mix the cream and milk before measuring.

Look for ikan bilis (dried anchovies) at Asian grocery stores specializing in Southeast Asian products. Choose smaller varieties for less saltiness. To prepare: remove heads, split lengthwise, remove guts and bones. Fry 50g cleaned ikan bilis in 1 tablespoon neutral oil over medium heat until golden brown (3-5 minutes). Drain on paper towels.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Due to the coconut milk, Nasi Lemak is best enjoyed fresh. It will keep in the fridge for 1-2 days but freezing is not recommended as the fats may separate when thawed.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
175 Calories
7g Fat
25g Carbs
3g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 175
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 6g 31%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 393mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 25g 9%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 3g
Vitamin C 1mg 3%
Calcium 15mg 1%
Iron 2mg 12%
Potassium 118mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

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